A painting stolen from Hitler’s bunker is due to be auctioned on Friday (17 November 2017).
In an ironic twist of fate, the very regime guilty of systematically looting artworks during the Second World War had Franz von Stuck’s ‘Portrait zweier junger Damen’ (Portrait of two young girls) stolen right from under its nose. Destined for Hitler’s Führermuseum in Linz, the painting was stored in the Führerbau Nazi party headquarters in Munich. It was among 650 other artworks carried off by the people of Munich when they stormed the Führerbau on 30 April 1945, the same night Hitler shot himself in his bunker in Berlin.
The painting is expected to fetch between €20,000-€30,000 (£18,000-£27,000) when it goes under the hammer at Van Ham’s Old Masters auction in Cologne. Registered on a German Historical Museum database of art acquired by the Linz Special Commission, the work remains the legal property of the German government. However, the German government’s Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues (BADV) verified that it will not pursue any ownership claim.
“This is however a one-off decision; it does not cast any doubt on the basic principle that the property of the Third Reich became the property of the federal government”, a spokeswoman for BADV stated.
Despite Van Ham’s efforts to research the portrait’s provenance, its ownership history remains murky. The German Historical Museum database records that it once belonged to a Walter Schnabel of Wiesbaden. While Schnabel was not Jewish, Van Ham’s researchers have not been able to exclude the possibility that the painting was spoliated from a Jewish family under the Nazi regime.
Although the Monuments Men sought to recover the artworks stolen from the Führerbau, around 400 remain missing.